Over the past 12 years as a manager, Pep Guardiola has averaged a trophy every 23 matches. The serial-winner sat down for an in-depth interview with GOL over the summer.
Part 1 of the interview is here:
Here’s part 2:
Q. Do you think we are over-professionalising the game for young players? Should we allow for more time for kids to play in the streets with freedom, with more time to dribble and play against bigger kids?
A. No, I think if a kid has the talent to dribble then he’ll have it all his life; he just needs to know when and how to do it. If we create places where they need to feel more comfortable to dribble then it’s not real. Intelligent players know how to see what is happening around them and how the game is developing, always moving in accordance to where their opponents, teammates and spaces are.
Q. If you prefer it when it’s chaotic, how do you get your principles and priorities in training? Where do you start?
A. It’s a cycle. I believe that when you press high with great effect then you’ll always spend less time defending in deep areas. And when you play out with quality then the rest of play comes fluidly, in a natural way. If we make an 8 v 6 to play out from the back, even just asking our number 9 to drop a little then everything comes fluidly from there. It’s a consequence of the two zones of the pitch; high and deep. Of course we have to defend, but it’s a lot less minutes defending in a game if we stick to our principles with the ball.
I first learned about the importance of a good build-up in the third division with Barça B. I’ve talked about it many times, having to build-up in very, very small pitches with artificial grass, where we had to play every Sunday. Monday would come along and you’d say, “It’s impossible to play out from the back here, impossible.” Then Tuesday came and you’d say “Its impossible, but a little less impossible.” By Wednesday and Thursday you were convinced, and we had to insist on the idea. We played like that throughout the season with the team, using the goalkeeper a lot, making the opponent turn and drop back; we had great success. And if we could do it there – on those pitches – then it could be done in every league, on every pitch; but you have to insist and convince the players, of course. The spaces are there, the spaces exist. A football pitch is very, very big. It’s enormous. We close the spaces down with our bad movement, but they are there. It’s merely a question of training these scenarios over and over again, analysing them, re-watching them and telling the players: “When you’re here, make this decision, the space is here!”. They have to see it for themselves and then believe it. It can be done.
Q. How much work will the players do with the video analysis team? Have relationships between players and coaches changed since you played?
A. The analysis is fundamental. When they see themselves play, with their own movements in front of their own face, then they learn far quicker. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a player about a moment in a session or game from two weeks before and they won’t remember, I’ll say: “Don’t worry”, let’s go and find the video footage together.” It’s incredible because the next time they’ll think “Fucking hell, this is the moment he showed me, when the ball comes from there then I need to turn to play this way where my two teammates are.”
Q. Then there’s the Marcelo Bielsa way. An Argentina player told me he’d go into their hotel rooms and bombard them with video clips.
A. But you need a strong relationship with players to do this stuff. Once they trust you, you have the keys. You can give them so much more information; “Take it on your back foot to have more chance of playing out, open up your body and play a little deeper, now look at the space for your winger.” The simplest things such as creating a 2 v 1 in the defensive phase can give the rest of your play so much more fluidity.
The players think I’m joking around when I tell them just how much of an impact the little things will have on their game. Most of the messages are to separate themselves from teammates and opponents. It’s not “dribble past five players and put it in the stanchion.” My messages bore them as I’m forever saying “open up your body, play on your back foot, play a pass into your teammate’s strong foot.” They’re always simple things that make our play more slick and fluid.
One thing I never let them do is watch our games back in full as we don’t have time to go through everything. When we have a game every three days for 10 months we don’t even have time to train. So we’ll spend 10 or 15 minutes looking at three different clips and correcting errors. Therefore, during preseason, it’s important that we do very little physical work and lots and lots of tactical work.
Q. A lot of managers use video analysis during the half-time break, are you one of those managers?
A. Not all the time. When there’s something that keeps happening, be it good or bad, then we’ll have a look. Our performance analyst Carles Planchart often gives the players three clips each to watch at home. The technology has made it all easier for us coaches; before we just had the tactics board, but now we can show the spaces and distances in real time.
Q. It seems like you can always get players to anticipate what’s going to happen next. Is this a gift?
A. No, it’s not a gift at all. I played as a central midfielder and knew my job was always easier when my central defenders or full-backs came forward and carried the ball to attract opponents away from me. Then sometimes our central defenders didn’t carry the ball out and I’d never touch the ball. This mentality helped us in the defensive zone as well as the others. To work on attacking principles is the most fascinating thing in the world to me.
Q. But you never know what the opponents are going to do.
A. True, but there are two or three zones on the pitch that are undefendable.
Q. Where are they?
A. (Laughing) I can’t tell you that, but if we play with a winger high and wide on each side of the pitch then there are definitely a few zones which can’t be defended, no matter the system. We always want to attack inwards, it’s the same as basketball; move the ball to the middle so the opposition close down central spaces, then move it to the side at the last possible moment to give somebody an open opportunity to shoot. Football is the same, you have to attack the centre-backs, attack the pivot and attack the centre forwards. So in the end, one of the three (of our centre-backs or pivot) has to attack centrally, then all the team come forwards. We did it constantly at Barcelona, all the way up the pitch, Andres and Messi would always attack the centre-backs, that’s how we continually created openings.
Q. You must plan for so many outcomes as you don’t know how the opponents will set-up. Do you plan and prepare to alter the system and approach before the game?
A. Yes. We’ll have several plans as it’s difficult to get players to understand messages during the game and there’s not enough time at half-time. The fundamentals remain the same, though. It doesn’t matter how the opponents play or if they have four or five at the back, there’s still two or three spaces that we always look to exploit and hurt the opposition. If they’re defending with all the bodies in the centre then we will look to the wingers in wider spaces.
I remember playing under Johan Cruyff and he always said, “When you win the ball, look immediately for Romario. If the centre is closed off then look for your winger. Leave him in a 1v1 or go and make it a 2v1 then play out to the other side and help over there until central spaces open up.” But when you play down one side then there’s usually very few teammates on the other side, it’s physically demanding to attack like this. Some teams go in a 5-4-1 against us to have full-backs covering our wingers, the midfielders will be sat in front of the defensive line and then the lone striker may as well be part of the midfield. It’s difficult as we have our two central defenders playing their game and then everyone else on the pitch is around the area of the other team. Even if we lose the ball they won’t commit men forward to try and counter-attack. This is the most defensive football I’ve ever seen.
Q. We’ve seen superstars such as David Villa and Thierry Henry arrive to your teams and you managed to convince them about your positional game, instructing them to stay wide and wait there so that the likes of Iniesta and Xavi could attack centrally. Have you come across many players that you failed to convince of your ideas? If so, how do you deal with this?
A. Yes, there’s been some. Big names too. I think they understood that it worked and why I asked them to do what I did, but they just didn’t want to do it. They wanted to be a bigger part of the game, involved in every moment, expressing their 1v1 skills and individual talents. They just didn’t want to be stopped. With the big players I’ll insist, insist and insist on the style, but there comes a time where you realise, “This guy ain’t gonna do it. I’ll play a different player.”
Q. There’s been players that you signed who never quite managed to adapt to your style or what you required of them. Will you do much ground work, making calls to get character references and finding out what kind of person they are?
A. Yes, there’s a lot of that. Though you never really know how they’ll settle into the group or adapt to the philosophy, but we want to know as much as we can. When we bring a player we never want to limit their talents, but we need them to generate spaces for others and not close down the spaces created by others. Some understand, nod at you as you speak, then say “No. I don’t want to.” This is why we look for a specific profile with the character to adapt, such as Titi (Henry) and David (Villa). They came, wanted to learn and adjusted their games to help the team. I was a huge fan of both, them wingers that stay wide and then attack inwards are my favourites. Start wide and attack towards the goal, don’t go doing your own thing in the corner. It’s like watching Messi and Jordi Alba now, Messi starts wide, drives in and finds Alba arriving diagonally. It’s extremely difficult to defend. Extremely difficult!
Here’s part 3:
Here’s part 4:
Translated by Alex Clapham